Mladic to stand trial on Bosnian war crimes

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Ratko Mladic, wartime chief of the Bosnian Serb army, goes on trial Wednesday accused of carrying out a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing and the massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica, Europe's worst atrocity since Nazi rule.

Mladic, now 70, has been indicted on 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the Balkan country's 1992-95 war which left 100,000 dead and 2.2 million homeless.

Former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic is already on trial before The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Both men are believed to be the main players in a joint criminal plan to rid multi-ethnic Bosnia of Croats and Muslims.

Dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia", Mladic is accused over the tragedy at Srebrenica where almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were systematically murdered in July 1995.

Prosecutors also hold him responsible for the 44-month siege of Sarajevo where his forces waged a "terror campaign" of sniping and shelling that left 10,000 civilians dead.

It was in pursuit of a "Greater Serbia" that Mladic allegedly ordered his troops to "cleanse" Bosnian towns, driving out Croats, Muslims and other non-Serb residents.

After the war, Mladic continued his military career but went into hiding in 2000 after then Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic's government fell.

An indicted war criminal, he spent 16 years on the run until May 2011 when he was found and arrested at a relative's house in Lazarevo, northeastern Serbia and flown to a prison in The Hague a few days later.

Better known from media images as a blustery commander in military fatigues, last June a sickly and haggard-looking Mladic made his first court appearance, opening proceedings by saying: "I am general Ratko Mladic... I defended my country and my people."

Mladic proceeded by pleading not guilty to the charges against him.

"He (Mladic) feels the same as he felt before, which is he has nothing to do with the crimes", he is accused of, his lawyer Branko Lukic told AFP.

"He's confident he will not be found guilty in the end," Lukic said.

Mladic has said little during the dozen or so hearings to prepare him for trial, apart from complaining about his health and asking presiding Dutch Judge Alphons Orie if he could wear his military uniform.

"It is obvious he is a sick man and I am not sure that he will be able to follow the trial five days a week," Lukic said.

The ex-general suffered three strokes in 1996, 2008 and 2011 and was partly paralysed on his right side, his lawyer said.

"He is still feeling better than when he was brought to the tribunal, but he has not fully recovered," added Lukic.

Meanwhile, the defence is seeking to have presiding judge Orie removed and the trial delayed, arguing that he cannot be impartial since he has already condemned several former subordinates of Mladic.

Orne was removed from the Karadzic case on a similar complaint.

If the trial goes ahead as planned on Wednesday Mladic will not speak, Lukic said.

The trial will start with an opening statement by the prosecution to continue on Thursday and then resume on May 29. The trial could last three years before a judgment is handed down.


© 2012 AFP

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